Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Matthew Adams: The Mysterious Ceramicist

A Sascha Brastoff  hand-painted dish
Most of what is known about Matthew Adams comes from his time working for Sascha Brastoff, one of the top names in ceramics in the 1950s. It was during this time that an Alaskan trading post contacted Brastoff and asked him to design a line of porcelain with Alaskan motifs that they could sell to tourists. Matthew Adams was selected to design and paint the pieces for the “Alaska” line, though Brastoff also worked on painting the pieces as well. The beautiful mid-century modern pieces are very functional, but mix the rustic charm of Alaskana. If you like primitive mid-century modern art, having a Matthew Adams piece could very well fit into your collection.

Pick up a piece from the Alaska line and you will find that it is either signed by “Sascha B/ Brastoff” or “Matthew Adams”. You might also notice, if you are familiar with Brastoff’s other ceramics, that there is no rooster backstamp. That’s just how they were produced. The biggest differences between a Matthew Adams and a Sascha Brastoff piece from the Alaska line is the art itself. Adams kept his work a little tighter and the lines had more motion and purpose than Brastoff’s work. The artists are commonly confused with one another by the layman.

 Adams worked for Brastoff for three years in the 1950s. When the Alaska line proved to be successful, he left to open his own studio and continue the Alaska line, though his pieces then started to include the word “Alaska” on the front. Not much is known about Matthew Adams life outside of his work with Brastoff, aside that he lived and worked in Los Angeles and was born in 1915.

If you happen to know more about Matthew Adams, please feel free to share.  The art history and antique world would love know!

Below are several examples of the work of Matthew Adams.  Click to enlarge.


  1. Good write up. My husband and I knew Matthew. We got to know him later in life after he had developed Parkinson's and could no longer paint. We have a considerable collection of his art pottery 800+ pieces. We live in Alaska, however, due to the souvenir nature of his pottery we have purchased it from almost every State as well as Canada, as little of it was left remaining here in Alaska. When he left Sacha's employ, he continued the Alaska line himself from his own studio in California, shipping out to numerous souvenir venues here in Alaska. He designed, handpainted and signed every piece himself - and had an assistant that painted the background color. Matthew was a British subject, raised and educated in British Columbia Canada. ~Marni Campbell

    1. Matthew was born in Japan and sent to boarding school in Vancouver island Canada.

  2. Does anyone have any idea why some of Adams works have the letter "a" or "b" after the number on the back? Also, any idea how to find values on these pieces? Lastly, do glaze line cracking reduce the value or worth?

  3. Does anyone have any idea why some of Adams works have the letter "a" or "b" after the number on the back? Also, any idea how to find values on these pieces? Lastly, do glaze line cracking reduce the value or worth?

  4. I am not sure about the "a" or "b". Typical value of Matthew Adams pieces depends on the piece - what is on it and what condition it is in, mainly. I would say that glaze line cracking reduces the value a little bit.

    If you want to get your stuff assessed, I would suggest finding someone who is knowledgeable in mid-century ceramics, Sascha Brastoff works, or antique shops that have other Matthew Adams pieces. It wouldn't hurt to email a museum or university professors or other experts.

  5. Mr Adams. This is how I knew him. His studio was in back of my grandmother 's home in East L.A. He was a kind man and he employed most of my aunts. My grandma would make him lunch everyday and as a child he would allow us to play out where his huge blocks of clay were kept, only if we promised not to break them. The last time I saw him was at one of my aunts funeral.
    My mom also has a small collection of his work.

  6. I have a Matthew Adams ashtray that is signed with only his last name and has no number on the back — only a slight swipe of a pencil / marker before it was fired. The signature is distinctively his style so I believe it’s authentic, it just doesn’t include his first name. Could this be a test piece or artist’s proof? Other thoughts? Thanks.

  7. It is interesting to read your blog post and I am going to share it with my friends.aybabg


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